Whether it’s to protect themselves from the fierce western lowland gorillas, or to shoot themselves out of trouble if they fall into a tank of piranhas, gun owners can now bring their weapons with them to the Houston Zoo.
The privately-owned zoo took down its “No Guns” signage after a local Second Amendment lawyer pointed out that the institution sits on city property, so can’t technically ban them. In a statement, the zoo responded that it would no longer ask concealed gun owners to leave their weapons in the car.
The push to get guns into zoos is not limited to Texas, either. This summer, an Ohio gun rights activist announced his plan to walk into St. Louis Zoo openly carrying a firearm. The zoo is publicly owned, he argued, and Missouri is an open carry state.
In Houston, about 50 mothers with activist group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense protested the reversal of the gun ban this weekend, saying it undermines the safety of the family destination.
"It's a stupid rule," a boy named Sam, whose mom definitely dragged him to the event, told a local news station. "The only reason you would need guns is to protect yourself from a gun."
Another mother, Stephanie Lundy, described herself as pro-Second Amendment but said: "[I have] no problem with folks having guns to hunt with, for personal protection, all the rest. What I do, however, believe is that there are places in our public lives where guns are inappropriate and the zoo is one of those places."
Supporters disagreed. "If you have the right to carry, you should be able to carry," Chrissy Richey, a zoo visitor, told CBS in support of the new policy. "That's my opinion. Everyone should be safe. If you think carrying a gun makes you safe."
In the St. Louis case, the zoo was able to get a restraining order against the man, or anyone working "in concert" with him, from walking into the zoo with a gun. The zoo went as far as redesignating itself as an amusement park and educational institution—two classes of businesses that are allowed to restrict the carrying of firearms. Legal proceedings in that dispute are pending.
Regardless, there are reports of people sneaking "hidden heaters" onto the premises.
The right to carry firearms into a zoo is decided on a state and local basis, depending on the applicable laws. There's not quite enough people in different cities challenging these rules to say that it's a movement, but a quick search through online gun forums do find these conversations popping up about zoos in Denver and Cleveland, to name two.
Zoos are pretty safe. Only one American has ever been killed by an escaped animal has, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That case came from the escape of a Siberian tiger from the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day, 2007. Are they about to get more dangerous?
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.